Monday, September 8, 2014

The Power of Failure

We are implementing Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) this year. One of the foci of PBIS includes the re-wording of procedures and routines of your building into positive ones. For example: Change "stop talking" into "raise your hand if you have something to say". I love the concept, and it WORKS when you have buy-in among stakeholders. I've seen it myself. Often, it can take time to acquire buy-in from stakeholders, and the results aren't always want you may want in the first go-around. For example: perceptions on the concept of failure are pretty broad at this point.

Here are some obstacles pertaining to the concept of failure:

Failure results in punishment
  • Ever sit in a parent conference and have the parent share with you that their child was grounded for the F they received in your class? Why would they feel OK with failure again? 
Failure is portrayed as something bad
  • See above. I posted in the past about the concept of stress hindering creativity. If a student is afraid to fail, one could ascertain that failure could lead to stress, thus hindering creativity. 
Failure is Finite
  • Have you ever seen a child crushed by a failing grade? It takes a certain degree of strength to cover from that; and its not always a degree a child possesses! 
Notice that I didn't ask why children are afraid of failure. Most children aren't readily afraid of failure. If they were, they would never learn how to grasp, to crawl, to walk, to talk...see where I'm going with this? Children involved in sports, music, dance, the arts, and gaming, for example, are used to seeing failure as part of the learning process. No one expects a child to hit a home run their first time at bat.

However, in the realm of education, we are often quick to assign a failing grade to a student's attempt at learning. What does that F result in? What could we as educators do differently to make that F more meaningful? I need to give credit to Robert Schuller for the quote, "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" As I continue to learn and grow, I often wonder of the damage I caused by giving a student an F. If I have provided a good amount of feedback and an opportunity to improve, I feel pretty good about it. If I stopped my feedback at the letter, I have not only failed that student or individual, but I also have failed as a teacher. 

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